June 30, 2009

Get Unplugged

Hittin' the road this week.

Leaving my computer at home.

Yes, I am taking an online class, but I have to let it go until the last minute this week. Where would I connect?

The first leg of my trip takes me to some dear old-timers who have little use for computers. (Cable television is a different story.) Although...their daughter, my best friend, is a connected chick. She's on her one-month administrator vacation, though. She's probably looking forward to peace.

The second leg of my trip will take me to rural northwest for a family reunion. I talked to my aunt, who is also going to the reunion, this evening:

"I'm excited to see you! Now, remember, there's no cell phone service up there. So, when you get to town, go by grandma's house. If I'm not there, I'll leave a note telling you where we are."

Leaving notes? Wow! Old school!

Will there be a hand-drawn map? I mean, I won't have Googlemaps or Mapquest!

The last time I visited my grandma's house, over 5 years ago, I thought I had cell service. Kind of. I mean, I do have Verizon! But...I was already planning on being disconnected.

The last leg of the trip will take us closer to civilization--and connection--but we'll be on the road.

For those of you who don't know about the West, there are lots of places where "being on the road" means you might not see people for hours. No people = possibly no cell phone. Of course, Nevada is the worst, but I've wandered many western roads--even freeways--that went on forever with towns. Now, last year, I found myself lost in Tennessee a few times, but there was a town every 10 miles. A few years ago, I thought I was alone in Virginia, but beyond those tree were entire communities-or so I was told.

Anyway, on with the rambling...we'll make our last stop in Utah, where we'll invade my parents' home for several days. I KNOW they are connected, but I'll be logging on just long enough to get my coursework done. Remember, at mom and dad's we do a lot of porch-sittin'.

So, a little cleanse. Getting unplugged. Getting in touch with places where I don't have to be in touch with others.

June 29, 2009

HappyChyck Murphy's Struggle with School

I've made it halfway through my master's program. Wahoo!

I just keep logging into the online classes, plugging along. Two weekly discussion questions. Read some text, sometimes in the book, sometimes from articles. Write a reflection journal at the end of the week on what I've learned. (It takes about 20 minutes.) There's an assignment due each week, and twice a quarter, that assignment is done with a collaborative group.

When one class finishes, every eight weeks, another one pops up. I don't choose my courses, and I figured out by the third classes when I was taking the course to plan my research project that the courses aren't following the order I was told they would follow. Whatever, though. Just follow the syllabus, hang out in the online database system, and use my prior knowledge, and I'm breezin' through.

Yeah, whatever until summer starts and the assignments ask me to interact with students to help me try diagnose reading problems and try out some strategies on them. The course that starts next week is called "Developmental and Corrective Reading Processes." The syllabus was just posted, and of course, it's necessary for me use students in my course assignments. I was afraid of that. Look at the course title! Sounds like a hands-on course for sure! For the last nine months, when I had 170 of my own students to practice on, and 1200 other students that my colleagues would have gladly offered up for me to use (and help), I had ONE (1) assignment where I needed to use practical skills with a live student--and that was during last week of school.

Why me?

How fortunate I am to have my own children to practice on! For the course I just finished, I did call up on them twice, but they aren't as readily available as one might think, as they spend half the summer (a few weeks at a time) with their maternal grandparents in California. They are helpful, though. In their minds, the more they help me with my assignments, the faster I can finish and pay them more attention. Poor kids!

The first assignment of my new class suggests that I use a child from my classroom, a Sunday school class, or from the neighborhood. So nice of them to offer back-up suggestions just in case I take this course during the summer when I don't an active classroom at my fingertips. The point of the assignment is that I use a child I don't know very well. Ugh. Well, my kids have just spent 3 weeks with their grandma. Boy, have they changed a lot!

Seriously, though. It's too bad that I'm not taking these practical classes while school is in session. Working with my own elementary age children can help me be a better mom to them, but I will NEVER teach elementary school. I mean it, too. I am licensed to teach 7th grade and up. I'm not getting my degree in reading to be a specialist or consultant. I chose this degree to help me strengthen my weakest area of instruction. (When I'm ready to move on from my current position, I will not be looking to work low-level students, either.) Being able to use these new skills would be more relevant to me if I could try them on the field in which I am most used to playing: my classroom and school.

Okay that's the feel-good teacher thought.

Here's the underlying reason I just need to do whatever I need to do:

Moving over on the pay scale is my major motivating factor in getting my degree. I feel like I just need to endure so I can move on to things that are more interesting to me professionally and personally. Especially personally...Next summer, with more $$ in my pocket, I think I'll be able to find more fun things to do than diagnosing reading problems in the neighborhood's children.

June 18, 2009

Living in the Desert Paradise, Part 1

Sometimes I'll be driving along thinking, "How the hell did I end up in Las Vegas?" It's not terrible, but it's weird and harsh sometimes. The things I've noticed have to do with weather. This is what we're down to this summer. Weather posts...

Here are some observations and tips about life in Las Vegas:
  • Ladies, take a jacket or a sweater when you go out. I carry one in my car. I know it seems weird, but there are a lot of places, like restaurants and movie theaters, that are over-chilled. Sure, it does feel good for the first 5-10 minutes, but then you'll wish you'd worn a sweatshirt instead of a tank top when you're shivering and asking for hot tea instead of iced tea. People may look at your strangely because you're carrying a sweater, but at times like these think comfort over fashion.
  • Hispanic moms use umbrellas when out in the sun. I think this is brilliant, but I never see any other people carrying around umbrellas. I can't think of the last time I owned an umbrella, but I'm thinking it was 1990 when I lived in northern Idaho. Maybe it was my roommate's, though. She would always leave hers open in so it would dry out. It was a strange sight that still sticks with me, as it would pretty much fill the floor space of our small dorm room. She was Japanese and didn't understand our taboo. She had a good point: how will it dry out? Anyway, I'd never seen people use an umbrella to use against the sun unless they were on a patio or on a beach before I moved here. If this is such a brilliant idea, and I think it is, why doesn't everyone do it?
  • One might forget how to use her windshield wipers. I was driving home from Henderson (suburb of Las Vegas) last night and I noticed the sky was spitting on my windshield. Suddenly I thought, "Where are the windshield wipers in this car?" I could see where this would be a valid question if I were driving a new car, or if I were driving my husband's car, but I was driving my own car, a car I have been driving for 3 years! I freaked out a little because I was in an area I don't travel a lot, getting ready to exit onto the freeway, and I didn't want to be fumbling with the windshield wipers if a downpour started. Remember? When it rains, it's a crisis.
It didn't start raining. It was just cloud spit. Instead, I was trapped in freeway construction...
  • Road construction is constant, and it happens at night. I have fallen for this trap so many times! Sure, there are cones everywhere, but not a lot of--if any--workers. But then comes the night and they are everywhere. So many nights I have a hard time getting home! One night last month while school was in session, the surface street route I take home was all coned and clogged up with workers, and the freeway on-ramp was closed. A lot of nights, I crave a teleportation device, but that night I was crying for it! There are worse things than weaving one's way through the 'hood at night, though. My husband was none too pleased the night road workers were working near our house.
So, here are some things I've noticed lately. I called this Part 1 because there's much more. When you live in a place long enough, weird things become normal. I've lived here long enough...but sometimes I get to thinking, so I'm sure there are more things from the odd-to-me files.

June 11, 2009

The Collapse

When I first started teaching, I would go to my parents' house as soon as summer started. For several days after I arrived home, I would be in a mostly vegetative state. Sure, I could hold simple conversations, cook meals, do some chores, but mostly, I was not-quite-there.

The first few years, this behavior concerned my parents. What was wrong with me?

Simply, exhaustion.

The first few years, I know it disturbed them, but after that, it was a ritual we all came to expect. I've even come to embrace it.

This week, I have been attending 3-hour professional development sessions that have started at 9 am about IB. At my school, most IB teachers start teaching at 7 am, yet here we were all rolling in two hours later than that looking like the zombies. I've heard talk of naps, headaches, and sheer exhaustion that baffles some, as we aren't even working hard now.

Last night I had a conversation with my principal, and come to find out she's been napping every afternoon, too. She's a little surprised by her need for sleep, and that surprised me. I think she's been in education longer than I've been alive, and she's about the hardest working administrator I know. As far as I can tell, her working hours know no boundaries. Surely after all these years she's felt that "Something's gotta give!" that comes in June.

Does this happen to other teachers? Does it happen to you?

What do you call it?

June 8, 2009

Is It Ever Over?

I finished my check out list and turned in my keys this morning. The year is officially over for me.

Teachers don't think of years in terms of January-December. Our year begin in August when we report back to work and great a new batch of students, and then it ends in May or June when the students leave.

Or is this just in my mind?

A few of my colleagues commented how they were already so done with the year before it was even over. Yes, part of it was exhaustion, but part of it was simply preparing for the end of another cycle of an academic year. They--and I--had started reflecting on the year and making preliminary plans for the next year while ideas were still fresh.

Today is the end of a year.

And tomorrow?

The beginning of the next year.

In the next few weeks I have 27 hours of paid professional development, where my colleagues and I will meet with each other, some leading the sessions, to plan for next year.

I have been looking forward to the this week so I could finally rest up and mend my mind, so a few weeks ago when administrators and coordinators starting talking about meeting after the year ended to begin work for next year, I nearly slithered off my chair in complete exhaustion. We have these opportunities nearly every year, but I thought for sure that because of the prevalent money problems in our state and district, we would not have it this year. Our school has been hit so hard by state and federal budget cuts that we pretty much assume there's no money for anything. As it turns out, there is specifically allocated Title 1 funding for professional development that had not been use during the year. No sense in letting any of it go to waste!

No, I'm not required to attend the professional development, but it is paid, and there are some sessions that I feel I need to attend to fill in some of the gaps in my instruction. There will also be time to collaborate with my colleagues, and as we all know, those opportunities are hard to find during the year--even though we do have allocated time for collaboration each month. It's never enough. I'll be pumping up my knowledge on project-based learning, assessment, and technology in the next few weeks.

So, ready or not, tomorrow I unofficially begin the the 09-10 school year.

June 2, 2009

How Can Something So Intangible Be So Messy?

I really hate clutter.  I try to organize myself, but sometimes things get out of control.  Okay, so it's the end of the year, and my desk is a mess with things that need to be processed, filed, and thrown away.  It's stressful to have these heaps of things all around me!

And then today, I looked up at my computer screen and realized that my computer desktop was just as bad--maybe worse.  Ack! If only I could twitch my nose and it would all be sorted.

Technology sucks when you have TWO desktops that are a disaster!

Double stress!